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Relaxing Labor

Sermon - 11/15/09
April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Mark 13:1-8

Mark chapter 13 is where we are this morning, verses 1 through 8:

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ 2Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ 5Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.


Things Change

All the time, in a hundred different ways.  Not always easy to just roll with the punches the way Jesus seems to be here in Mark.

Things change all the time inside of you and outside of you. Some change takes over quickly and some is rather slow. 

There is no sign other than the experience of things past – the experience that other things have changed.  

One day you decide you are going to reduce your carbon footprint – ah but it takes work and practice and the change,  inside of you, happens almost instantly, it takes a while for the change outside of you to take shape. 

The results really begin to add up and show significant change.  For you and for others.

In another life you stay home with the flu, then it becomes 2, and you think “I’ve got to get back to work!”  then you make a dr.’s appt. to see what’s going on and your pregnant.  Life changes.  Suddenly you’ve got a whole new set of reasons for going back to work.

Sometimes a seed of hope grows inside of you – and you don’t know why – a longing, a dream – but you’re afraid to let it grow – you suppress it, hide it from others – but it continues to grow until something has to give.  Suddenly your life is changed. Upside down.

I read Mark’s passage in 4 translations in this week for comparison.  It’s fun to compare and contrast.  And the same message came through.

NIV key words

Do not be alarmed. Do not be fooled.  Change will come, no matter what.  These are the beginnings of birth pains

Message key words

Doomsday.  Wars and rumored wars.  Don’t panic.  This is routine.  What’s coming is coming.

New Living key words

The temple is described ornately.  How hard one must have worked to build the temple –  and then things go and change – moreover that the work is destroyed. 

Then they travel to the Mount of Olives  - which has a good view of the temple – it’s like they stepped back in order to rethink about what Jesus had told them. 

Sometimes the change happens Outside of you – new politicians, new fads, new religious groups, new diets, new science, new information.

Sometimes it happens inside of you – you get a new understanding, perspective, new information that shapes your ethics, your boundaries, your dreams. 

As some of you know there is a class that meets on Thursday nights here called Faith Leaders – we are a small group of individuals all discerning our call to leadership and service in our families, in this community, in the greater Eugene community.  We’ve begun a 7 week practice of various spiritual disciplines – we’ll practice praying together, serving in community together, practice integrating our values and ethics more deeply into our relationships and all the while asking God to help us along the way.

Already seeds are growing in these individuals.   

This week we did an activity called “the Coach’s walk” which is designed to mirror an experience we have walking with God.  We divided into pairs and one became the coach and the other – a blindfolded participant.  The goal was to walk, completely blind, through an obstacle course using only the encouragement and spoken words of the coach.  Couldn’t touch.  Couldn’t peek.  It was great. 

You had to trust the coach. Or you just found yourself standing still in the middle of the room!  That unseen voice was the only way through, or you could quit.  That is always an option. 

They didn’t know what was ahead so in that moment of uncertainty they hung on to the only thing that had guiding them – the voice of one they trusted.  Sometimes we are that same blindfolded person. 

When things change, and they will, stay with God.

How? Good question.

Ask my friend Angela, who delivered her second child on Friday.  She says, “I’m having the most relaxing labor!”

She updates her status on FaceBook, in labor,  “I’m having the most relaxing labor.”  Her story is longer than one status update for sure, but think about relaxing as an adjective describing labor –just for a minute – that is an fortunate experience. Not always achieved, but a thing of beauty and wonder.   Relaxing Labor.

I told her she needs to write a book and fast. 

The way we see labor on TV & movies is just mayhem.  Unless you are a Star Trek fan in which case you’re telling me in your heads right now about the Bajoran women who give birth silently.  (sarcastically) – but that’s science fiction!  That can’t really happen! 

What’s the one thing we know about how Labor works – well it just does, there isn’t just one way about it.  But once it starts it can’t be stopped. But there are some things you can do.

A pregnant woman can learn a great deal – make very detailed preparations. 

Do you know that now a woman has the option of planning the moment she wants to have her child.  On Friday the 13th at 12:00 pm, but that baby just might come on the 11th at 4 in the morning. 

And now a woman can prepare for birth in her home and make stunning preparations for the labor but still the baby may need some type of care that requires the hospital, and the plan changes. 

Even with all your preparation things have their own way of working themselves out.  You have to keep an open mind – keep the big picture in mind.

Stay focused.

Relax. Do not panic.  Do not be afraid.  These have practical applications because when you are afraid your body tenses up and the whole point is to open up.  Think about applying that to your spiritual life and your whole world opens up.

The best advice I got when I was pregnant was to Pick a meditation focus –and you know a clergy woman can’t decide how to meditate.  I brought them all.  I had the IPod and back up cd’s just in case.  We brought mandalas to color, and I had a picture that I liked to meditate with, I was prepared.  It’s not just a joke about me, I think it’s healthy to find as many connections to the divine.  It can be sound, sight, spoken – and just like all the information you gather about options you gather as many meditation tools as you can because in the moment something will work but you don’t know what.  That way no matter the outcome there is an outlet for you to emote.  I say it’s good practice to bring several so you can count on one. Like the coach’s voice!  When all our good intentions lead us astray, when they leave us with a dry, dusty tongue that can no longer sing out the words of God – gently we are led by God.

So things change.  And you hold fast to God.  But -

What if in the process God changes?

Certainly the perception of God has already changed – many times over.  And through all those changes some things remain.  Recognize that much of Christian heritage came from Judaism, which before that was heavily influenced by Canaan, Babylon, Egypt, Persia.  If we are honest with ourselves our Christianity today is influenced by scientific discovery, by neurology, and earth sciences, still by other faiths – both mystic and orthodox, by psychology and more.  John Shelby Spong says that Evolution…“Evolution is the mode of the religious journey”

I’ve been reading JSS this week and it’s so good - John Shelby Spong wrote a book nearly 20 years ago called Why Christianity must change or die.”  His call was to all those who had left the church out of a call for integrity – and to those who stay with the church but feel out of place – the belief in God is still present but somehow not connected to old images, old perspectives, without scientific knowledge. 

And so for many reading this book – changed their lives – there was a return for many to church – because of change – because somehow the message of God got through, through all the red tape and red letters. 

Evolution does not mean death.  Transformation does not mean the end.  Change does not indicate the way it will always be from now to eternity.  Evolution is about life!  Transformation is about growth! Gently we are led by God.  When we crawl forward, dragging our bodies across the sand, tired and alone and thirsty –

An evolution of God in our community manifests in Interfaith Services and Alliances to look deep, deep beyond creed and icon and history and stay focused on God.  An Evolution of God manifests today In Christian Witches.  Yes you heard me – a woman told me once she was being called to unite 2 striking languages and methods of faith– this is an evolution inside of one soul, but influenced by the way she has experienced life and the interdependence of all things.

The conversation we have with God each day – however we do it – it evolves over time and sometimes it’s loud like a building crashing to the ground, stone upon stone, and other times it’s like crossing an invisible line but your whole world is changed. 

How God interacts and changes and grows in the relationship – this was my favorite part of watching and helping with the Coach’s walk this week.  Because the coach had such care for the blind friend that they spilled more glasses!  And so in my mind these are the ones playing “God” and I heard “Oh no you are doing a great job.  I’ll just pick that one up. “

“Oops, I hit one picking yours up.” 

Or “My Baaad!”  

Seeing God in this lens, as one who learns and grows and changes is also an evolution – a mutation from the once all knowing all seeing all fixing image that the Marcan community had. 

Talk about beware of those who come in my name…This text can easily mislead a reader today – because from the literal reading it’s as though Jesus does foretell the future – as best he can – but when comparing the literal reading with a more serious analysis of history, translation, upon comparing the synoptic three, each are using an outside source for what we read in vs. 5-8.  So though it is very much in Jesus’ character to shock and surprise the disciples, to frustrate ordinary expectations, even he did not foretell the future, at least not in this instance.  This is one example of the evolution that Spong is speaking to and that I have lived because upon first reading that commentary - This causes in me a feeling of disappointment (an old image is stripped away) but also a place of connection between me and Mark.  Between us and the Marcan community. (a place of connection and growth). We all long to know.  And everyone waits for the answers.  And we interpret from what we see around us the best we can and when the stones begin to fall all around us we look for what remains. 

It’s not a question of whether we’ll know how it ends, we won’t.  until it does.  That is painful but true.  But the question is how you want to live.  It’s a cliché, we’ve all heard that before.  That’s your focal point..  Imagine a relaxing labor – relaxing labor of the mind, of the body, of the soul.  I say experience it because for me it might be a picture and for you a sound and for another a dream and another in writing. 

When you are lost, when you wander off the path into the desert – God will lead you.  Do not panic.

And what remains?

When we are focused on God brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—or a child’s development.  Or physical therapy patient in rehabilitation.  [Gifts] things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.  Those are Paul’s ideas – in Galatians.

Then there’s this great Psalm we read together in Faith Leaders this week, from the Message translation:

Psalm 27

Light, space, zest— that's God!
   So, with him on my side I'm fearless,
      afraid of no one and nothing.
When vandal hordes ride down , ready to eat me alive,
   Those bullies and toughs fall flat on their faces.
When besieged,  I'm calm as a baby.
When all hell breaks loose,  I'm collected and cool.
I'm asking God for one thing, only one thing:
To live with him in his house my whole life long.
 I'll contemplate his beauty; I'll study at his feet.


That's the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world,
The perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic.

God holds me head and shoulders above all who try to pull me down. I'm headed for his place to offer anthems that will raise the roof! Already I'm singing God-songs; I'm making music to God.

Listen, God, I'm calling at the top of my lungs:
      "Be good to me! Answer me!"
   When my heart whispered, "Seek God,"
      my whole being replied,
   "I'm seeking him!" Don't hide from me now!

You've always been right there for me; don't turn your back on me now. Don't throw me out, don't abandon me; you've always kept the door open. My father and mother walked out and left me, but God took me in.

Point me down your highway, God; direct me along a well-lighted street; show my enemies whose side you're on.  Don't throw me to the dogs, those liars who are out to get me, filling the air with their threats.

I'm sure now I'll see God's goodness in the exuberant earth.
   Stay with God!  Take heart. Don't quit.
   I'll say it again: Stay with God.


Or  one of my favorite poets wrote:

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…don’t search for the answer, they could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.   Rainer Marie Rilke.

Blessed Be.


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